The Outstanding Success of the Permanent Diaconate

I didn’t take the time to write a post about the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. I should have.

On October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Council. As those of us old enough to remember recall, it was a magnificent event – not only the opening but the years that followed. Even though nearly 50 years has passed, and we are currently going through a re-thinking of its impact and its implementation, there is one fruit of the Council that has been an outstanding success and is bearing much fruit.

It is the permanent diaconate.

Many think of the permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, as a “Vatican II thing,” when in fact, it is a very ancient order. Vatican II simply implemented what the Council of Trent called for in the 16th Century, and Trent was simply re-establishing what had been the ancient way of ordering clerical life and service in the Church.

Before there were presbytyrs (who we now call priests) there were deacons, ordained by the Apostles themselves to assist them in the ministry of the Church. For centuries, there were three stable orders (deacons, bishops and priests) all of whom received the same Sacrament of Holy Orders, but ordained to different offices. The diaconate remained a stable, i.e., permanent order, in the Eastern Catholic Churchs, but in the West it became a transitional order to the priesthood, until 1968.


Today, there are over 17,000 deacons in the United States and thousands more worldwide. Most of us deacons do our work in the background, silently and diligently. Seldom are we recognized, and so be it…

We are called to preach the Gospel, whose herald we become at ordination. We offer homilies. We teach the faith, administer baptism, witness marriages, bury the dead, offer blessings, lead prayer and liturgy, and we serve the poor among us.

It is a beautiful calling, very rich indeed.

You may be interested to know that the renewed diaconate took root in the concentration camp of Dachau during the second world war. The priests there began to realize the importance of diaconal ministry, and after the war discussion of it implementation took fire, resulting in the documents of Vatican II.

Thanks be to God the Council Fathers implemented what Trent called for, and Pope Paul VI promulgated the decree!

Thank your favorite deacon the next time you see him, and pray for him.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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